TORONTO – NHL collective bargaining talks were canceled Wednesday after top executives from the league and players' union held an impromptu morning meeting to discuss the status of the negotiations.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly spent about two hours with players' association executive director Donald Fehr and his brother Steve Fehr, the union's No. 2 man.
"I think more than anything else it was to review where we are in the process, where we've come from, where we are with the various proposals and to determine how to move the process forward in the best way possible — hoping and understanding that both sides are committed to using the time left to making a deal as quickly as possible," Daly said.
The clock is ticking. The current agreement is set to expire Sept. 15, when the NHL says it will lock out the players if a new deal hasn't been reached.
Formal talks between the two sides were slated to resume Wednesday afternoon, but they were postponed until Thursday morning.
"This is one of the normal things that happen," Donald Fehr said. "Sometimes you schedule things and they don't come off. Sometimes you don't schedule things and you end up with much longer or more involved meetings. Sometimes you change the format. This is an ordinary part of the process."
The private meeting between the four main principals was kept quiet as media gathered at the NHLPA head office in anticipation of the afternoon talks.
"I'm not going to try and characterize it," Donald Fehr said of the meeting. "I think it would be not conducive to the process for me to try and do that. So, you just (have to) bear with me on it."
Daly said the sides would discuss key issues on Thursday.
"I think system-related proposals and economical proposals are the most critical issues and probably the issues where we have the widest divergence of views currently," Daly said. "I'm all in favor of spending as much time as possible trying to bridge those gaps."
There is a significant gap between the proposals.
The union put forth an offer last week that includes a smaller percentage of revenues for players over the next three seasons in exchange for an expanded revenue-sharing program to help struggling teams. The NHLPA estimated that players would be giving up $465 million in salaries if the league continued on its pace of 7 percent growth each season.
The league's proposal called for a 24 percent decrease in player salaries — accomplished by lowering the union's share of revenue — while introducing new contract restrictions, including a five-year cap.
The NHLPA also proposed the creation of an industry growth fund in which $100 million would be contributed each year for struggling franchises. It would be part of a wider plan totaling $250 million in annual redistributed funds, and Bettman would be given the discretion to decide how the money from the industry growth fund is spread around.
The NHL is largely happy with the current economic system, but it would like to eliminate heavily front-loaded, long-term contracts. As part of its proposal, deals would be required to pay the same amount each season.